What to Expect When Your Child is in Therapy

therapy in block letters

Making the decision to pursue therapy for your child

Parenting is hard and it is even more challenging when your child is struggling and needs more support than you can provide. You may have gotten to this point because the feelings of frustration, worry and concern have become overwhelming.  

Taking the next step to help your child may include therapy, and this can be a step in the right direction.  It may feel like you are accepting defeat and you cannot provide what your child needs, however, seeking help through therapy is the opposite of defeat, it is your way of showing your child that you love them enough to ensure that they receive the support they need.  It is also a great way to normalize and model the importance of asking for support.

Parent Involvement

It is important to be committed to and involved in the therapeutic process to show your child that you are there for them.  You play a major role in supporting and encouraging your child every day and this is especially important when your child is receiving therapy.  

The information about your child that you can provide to the therapist is valuable because you know them better than anyone else.  Likewise, the skills and coping strategies that the therapist teaches your child will be valuable to you because you can incorporate them into your parenting.

Your level of involvement will vary depending on your child’s age, presenting problem and temperament.  Typically a child 4 years old and younger will have a parent present in the session. Younger children can be anxious and not open up if their parent is not in the room.  

If your child is 5-12 years old you may check in at the beginning and/or end of the session or you may develop a schedule of one parent session to every three child sessions. 

Older children may open up more without a parent in the room and having a parent present in therapy can be awkward for them.  Your child’s therapist will be able to assess what’s best for them and their specific needs so they can make recommendations about your involvement. 

Doing Your ‘Homework’

Your child will definitely need help carrying out the new skills and ways of thinking learned in therapy at home. The guidance and support you provide will be crucial to them successfully implementing what they have learned.  Time with a professional is important but real results come from putting in the work between sessions.  

More than likely, at some point in your life you have looked to a professional to help you with something; maybe you have worked with a personal trainer to help you get in shape or you have asked a nutritionist for advice about how to eat right. 

I bet you didn’t expect to see results from just talking to them.  You knew that in order to get results you had to actually do what they advised you to do and stick to it.  

The same concept applies to therapy.  The skills taught in each session should be implemented in your child’s daily life and routines in order to see results and overcome the challenges that led you to seeking therapy for them in the first place.

How Does Divorce Impact the Process?

It is most helpful when parents are able to present a united front and agree that therapy is valuable and necessary.  Sending mixed signals to the child about therapy has the potential not only to delay progress but create new problems for them to have to overcome.

Your therapist will explore how the two separate households run differently and identify the positives of those differences.   Helping the child determine how to work with the differences is important.  At the same time, in order to reduce anxiety, it may be helpful to align some routines or rules in each household to create stability for your child.

Your therapist will try to reduce miscommunication between parents as much as possible.   This means it is ideal to be able to participate in joint parenting sessions.   

If your therapist is able to talk with both parents at the same time, the end result is that everyone hears the same thing and is on the same page.  This shows the child that everyone is willing to come together for them and keeps them from feeling they are “caught in the middle.”  

If it is too contentious to do joint co-parent sessions (both parents, no child present), it may be best to do a pattern of  2 child sessions, then one parent session (alternating the parent that will come to the parent session each time).

How Long Does Therapy Take?

Therapy is different for every family because the approach is individualized based on your child’s needs, diagnosis and your family dynamics.  There is a process that includes several key elements to provide structure for the overall service that is provided.  This includes assessment to understand the underlying cause of their symptoms, problem solving, providing relief and building coping skills.  

You, your child and your child’s therapist will all play an important role when it comes to creating a therapeutic relationship that produces positive results.   

It’s normal for parents to find themselves reflecting and making some changes throughout the therapeutic process.  Being willing to develop new skills and coping strategies that reflect what your child is learning will be so helpful during the course of therapy.  Try to  keep an open mind and remain flexible and open to new strategies and systems.

There will be ups and downs because progress is not linear.  You will be happy when you see your child make positive steps forward and you may feel frustrated when there are regressions.  

Just remember that this is normal and it is okay.  When stressors arise you will be able to test coping skills and identify stress thresholds.   Testing them out during therapy prepares you to face challenges and stressors that will arise after treatment.

The amount of time your child will need to participate in therapy depends on the goals that you and your child’s therapist have agreed on. Typically, therapy will be once a week for a few months but it really is an individualized approach for each child. 

What other questions do you have about what to expect when your child is in therapy? 

Contact us!  We would love to support you and your family. 

Is your child resistant to the idea of therapy?  We covered that here and what to do about it here, in case that is helpful! 

1 Comment

  1. […] We cover some other info about child therapy in this post – What to Expect When Your Child is in Therapy. […]


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